Some 1.3 million people signed a petition calling for an end to the construction of Brazil’s massive Belo Monte dam in the Amazon. A delegation of Brazilian celebrities and activists delivered the petition Tuesday to the country’s President Dilma Rousseff and called — yet again — for the immediate suspension of the controversial hydroelectric dam in Para state, located in Brazil’s north.
The dam will be the third largest in the world one built, second to China’s Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. Three Gorges has installed capacity to power 22,000 megawatts of electricity, while Belo Monte has the installed capacity to produce around 11,200 megawatts. Brazil’s Itaipu dam, the world’s second largest, has the installed capacity to generate around 14,000 megawatts.
The Belo Monte dam pits environmental activists, native tribes and clean energy wonks against Brazil’s government and large mining interests like Vale (VALE), which acquired a 9% stake in Norte Energia, the consortium of mostly Brazilian electric power companies that won a bid to own and operate the dam for around 30 years.
Activists say that the dam will destroy a large swath of land in the pristine Amazon rainforest and disrupt the livelihood of at least 20,000 people who will be forced to move because of the flooding that will take place to build the dam’s reservoir. Branches of the Xingu River will be diverted, and this could cause low water levels during the dry season, killing off certain species of fish and making the Bacajá River, a Xingu tributary, unnavigable.
The petition comes after the highly popular “Drop of Water Movement”, a web-based viral video campaign led by actor Sergio Marone with a host of well-known Brazilian celebrities inspired by the “Don’t Vote” video spearheaded by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in 2008. The campaign has prompted significant debate in Brazil about the Belo Monte dam, though it has not been the first attempt to derail the power plant.
James Cameron brought Belo Monte to the attention of global Amazon activists in August 2010 with his short anti-Belo video called “Message to Pandora”. In the video, Cameron compares the construction of the dam to the fight portrayed in his hit movie “Avatar” — only instead of the alien natives being attacked by a massive Earthling mining corporation, the indigenous natives are being ousted off their land by the Brazilian government and a Brazilian mining corporation.
The petition was delivered by Marone and Antonia Melo, coordinator of the grassroots alliance Xingu Alive Forever Movement that has opposed construction of Belo Monte and other dams on the Xingu River for over 20 years. The group met with Gilberto Carvalho, a high-level presidential advisor, Edson Lobão, the Minister of Energy, and Isabella Teixeira, the Minister of the Environment and delivered a letter to President Rousseff calling for a moratorium on the construction and licensing of new dams in the Amazon, activist group Amazon Watch said in a press release on Tuesday.
“We were very satisfied to have opened dialogue,” said Marone after the meeting. “We took one more important step. While the government has proven unyielding, we will continue our campaign demanding the immediate paralyzation of the dam’s construction and push for a debate on energy policy that involves true dialogue where the concerns of the population are heard and taken into consideration,” Marone said in the statement.